Last year I read 54 books, probably the most I've read in any one year of my life. But what I found in reading that much is that I did a pretty lousy job of retaining what I read. As 2009 came and I thought about setting new reading goals, it dawned on me that I felt like I needed to re-read many of the books that most engaged my thinking last year. I was in such a rush to read a book per week, that I have only a fuzzy idea of the content of many of those books.
So, with the help of John Piper, I have devised a way to be more active when I read and hopefully read books in a way that will profit me for a longer period of time. I have read that when Piper reads a book, he makes notes in the front and back blank pages of the book indicating the page number of quotes and thoughts that were significant. In addition, he breaks the page into tenths to indicate where on the page the quote or idea is found.
For instance, I'm currently (re)reading a book called Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (yes, I am aware that he has some questionable beliefs; we can still read authors like that, so long as we use biblical discernment!). On page 18 Wright gives a succinct definition of the Kingdom of God. I thought it was worth noting, so in the front of the book I wrote, 'Kingdom of God defined, 18.6.' That means I can find that quote on page 18, around 6/10 of the way down the page.
Also, as I finish a chapter I am writing a sentence or a phrase or two in the front of the book so I know what the main theme or idea of that chapter was. Another book I'm reading is Robert Coleman's The Master Plan of Evangelism. Inside the front cover I have written, 'Chap. 1 -- Jesus invests in a few, not crowds.' That will now jog my memory as to the content of that chapter.
Whether you find these particular tips helpful or not, I encourage those of you who love reading to think about some specific ways that you can retain what you have read. Because a book with great content isn't really worth much if you can't remember anything that you read six months later.